People reveal their shocking experiences of conversion therapy in the UK

By Jessica Lindsay

There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where the film’s protagonist Alex is ‘deprogrammed’ from violence through aversion therapy.

He’s shown distressing images of violent acts while his eyes are held open and electric shocks run through his body.

The scene is a disturbing one, as despite knowing how much Alex’s own savage behaviour has hurt others, you can’t help but feel sickened by the cruel therapy.

It may seem like something confined to dystopian films – or even to other countries – but conversion therapy is completely legal and happens here in the UK, as well as many parts of the world.

The 2018 National LGBT survey compiled by the government found that 2% of respondents had undergone conversion or reparative therapy in an attempt to ‘cure’ them of being LGBT, and a further 5% had been offered it.

Meanwhile, Stonewall, as part of a YouGov survey, found that 10% of health and social care workers – who they surveyed to analyse how beliefs may impact patient care – said a colleague had vocalised belief in a ‘gay cure’. Essentially, this is not just a fringe issue.

Although making conversion therapy illegal has been tabled – and promised – by government years ago, the legislation has not yet passed, despite a petition calling for this currently carrying more than 230,000 signatures.

What is conversion therapy?

The United Nations defines so-called conversion therapy as practices that seek ‘to change non-heteronormative sexual orientations and non-cisnormative gender identities.’

They continue that it is ‘an umbrella term to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which are premised on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender expression, can and should be changed or suppressed when they do not fall under what other actors in a given setting and time perceive as the desirable norm, in particular when the person is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender diverse.

‘Such practices are therefore consistently aimed at effecting a change from non-heterosexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender.

‘Depending on the context, the term is used for a multitude of practices and methods, some of which are clandestine and therefore poorly documented.’

Some of the ‘techniques’ they have seen in their extensive research on the topic include ‘corrective’ rape, threats, exorcisms, forced repentance, and isolation from family and friends.

The Government response to the petition promises to ‘to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy’, noting that ‘conversion therapy is a very complex issue’.

Carolyn Mercer – who was assigned male at birth – had aversion therapy at the age of 17, with the aim to ‘cure’ her from feelings of gender dysphoria.

Now 73, Carolyn says that this form of punitive treatment has affected her ability to feel positive emotions – despite the decades that have passed.

Her experience with aversion therapy began after she visited the doctor to talk about feeling like she was born in the wrong body. These feelings had started around age three, but the doctor brushed them off, telling the confused teenager to ‘stop worrying your mum’.

She said: ‘I needed someone to listen to me and recognise my identity not to try to change me by denial and punishment.’

From there, a meeting with the local vicar (who’d come to visit Carolyn’s parents while they were at work and only Carolyn was home) led to a chat where she spoke about her dysphoria, and then led to her being referred to a mental hospital.

‘I felt that I ought to be punished for feeling the way that I did,’ Carolyn told Metro.co.uk.

‘I didn’t know how to process it. Of course, in those days, there was no internet. There was no literature. There was no one I could talk to.’

When Carolyn did open up, she was sent to Whittingham Hospital near Preston, the town where she grew up.

She said: ‘I wanted to be cured. I didn’t want to be odd. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be nasty, dirty – which is how I saw it.

‘And so he referred me to the psychiatrist, who then recommended NHS treatment.’

This ‘therapy’ (Carolyn doesn’t like the word, but stresses that she did enter into it voluntarily) saw her strapped to a wooden chair in a dark room, with electrodes fastened to her arms.

She said: ‘I can still smell it. They soaked the electrodes in salt water, in brine, and attached them to my arm.

‘And then from time to time while showing pictures [of women’s clothes or typically feminine things] on the wall, they’d pull the switch and send a pain through my body.

‘The idea was to make me associate the pain with what I wanted to do, and therefore that would stop me wanting to do it.

‘Effectively what it did was not make me hate that aspect of me. It made me hate me because it reinforced that I was wrong; I was evil, and so I deserved to be punished. And that was inflicted as part of NHS treatment.’

Carolyn went on to marry a woman and had children, moving up the ranks in teaching to become the youngest headteacher in Lancashire.

Her life was filled with enviable and admirable moments, but the spectre of the therapy and knowing she was trans was always there.

It was barbaric… and it clearly didn’t work

Carolyn likens what she went through to previous corrective and punitive measures used on left-handed people throughout history, which are not only proven not to work, but are designed to change a natural facet of someone, pathologising their sexuality or gender expression.

A UN study published in June 2020 found that 98% of the 940 persons who reported having undergone some form of conversion therapy testified to having suffered damage as a result.

However, due to the underreporting of conversion therapy and the myriad of effects from physical to psychological (potentially making it harder for a specific harm to be pinpointed by governments), these practices are still not banned.

Although such practices are frowned upon in the therapy industry (and have been disavowed by the NHS), a petition by the public to enshrine this into law recently highlighted the fact that the overarching practise is still allowed in the UK.

Josh Bradlow, Policy Manager, Stonewall told Metro.co.uk: ‘Conversion therapy can come in many different forms from a variety of sources and is often hidden.

‘It may be disguised as pastoral care or a form of support to help someone with difficult feelings. These so-called therapies are also sometimes based in psychotherapy or medical practices that try to “fix” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.’

Many of the physically violent acts that fall under the conversion therapy banner are already illegal – rape, for example – so in theory, a ban would encompass the psychological methods being used.

We have to continue to shine a light on the horrifying after-effects of these methods, too, so that they don’t fall by the wayside in legislation.

Despite Carolyn doing the ‘blokey’ things she felt she were supposed to do, the dysphoria didn’t go away until she transitioned in 2002 ( or, as Carolyn puts it, ‘align my gender expression with my gender identity, which most people call transition’).

We can’t change the past, but we can look at the main effect for Carolyn – over 40 years of self-hatred and low self-esteem – as a stark warning of what we need to do next.

She said: ‘I can smile about it now, because I force myself to.’

‘But it was barbaric, you wouldn’t subject somebody to that in a concentration camp.

‘It clearly didn’t work, but worked at making me hate myself for a lifetime.’

Carolyn believes her experience has made her devote her life to teaching in an effort to help others, in part because of her low opinion of herself caused by the therapy.

Mark Loewen tells a similar story, although the form of conversion therapy he experienced was different to Carolyn’s.

Mark grew up in Paraguay in a religious family. As a child – and without the internet until about the age of 13 – he didn’t know what the word gay even meant, but tells us: ‘Growing up, I knew that something was different.’

Small things such as playing with girls’ toys and the sense of shame that came with that led to Mark questioning his sexuality, and it was when he went through puberty that he realised he was sexually attracted to men.

Mark’s fear and shame were largely rooted in religion

The way that homosexuality was treated by the pastors at his church was to read the passages of the Bible about sex between men, and to tell Mark ‘just don’t do it, and you’ll be fine’.

Mark worked in a pet shop where one of the customers was known to be gay. His colleagues warned Mark to be careful around the customer.

He said: ‘That’s the message; kind of like we’re dangerous, and that I could be dangerous.’

That man went on to kill himself, leaving Mark believing that this is what ‘destiny’ would have in store too if he came out.

When Mark reached his early twenties he found chatrooms where he was able to identify other gay men through coded language and have secret meet-ups for sex. But because of the negative messages he internalised, these were filled with shame for him and he began to use the internet in order to look for a ‘solution’.

‘I’m not looking for “how can I be happy as a gay man?”,’ said Mark.

‘My searches are “how do we get rid of this?” And so I get involved with a group I find called Exodus International.’

His church told Mark that homosexuality was caused by a distant father and an overbearing mother, and that he was being ‘respectful’ by not feeling a desire to sleep with the girls he was dating. When the time was right, they said, he would meet that right woman.

While working at a Christian book store at around the age of 22, Mark would regularly have business trips to the US, so he was able to go to his first ‘ex-gay’ conference in California without telling his family or friends.

The three-day conference including worship and music, which Mark says made the crowd feel like they were in a ‘trance’.

‘Their speakers would talk a lot about this seeking wholeness where we were missing something emotionally and to seek it. And so a lot of it was about finding approval for yourself in as a person as a man.’

The seminars were framed in a way where gay wasn’t who you were, instead portraying it as a series of attractions and behaviours that could be managed.

At first, these sessions were cathartic for Mark, seeming to him the one place he could truly talk about his innermost secrets and still be ‘loved’.

Mark said: ‘It goes well for some time, and then you notice that you’re still attracted to guys, and all of that happens again and again until you kind of fall again and have sex with someone or whatever it is that you do. And then you feel like you’ve failed.’

Throughout later group therapy sessions it was drummed into Mark that his desire for emotional connection with another man was not love, but instead a form of codependence and selfishness – a way to gain a stronger sense of masculinity that he believed he lacked.

Group members and those he knew would pray for him and he would be given what we’d know as a form of exorcism to change him.

It was only when he went to a college in the US and began studying psychotherapy himself that he realised these techniques were ineffective and morally wrong.

He left the sessions and has gone on to have a daughter and get married to a man he loves dearly. But he says that unpicking the idea that he was codependent and that who he is is shameful has taken a lot of work.

Now 40 years old, Mark writes inclusive children’s books, counsels adults and children alike, and runs a website for parents to raise empowered young girls.

Like Carolyn, he has channeled his energy into helping others.

If we look at the idea of the carrot or the stick, Carolyn’s aversion therapy was the stick and Mark’s conversion therapy was the carrot.

Where Carolyn experienced the more extreme-seeming Clockwork Orange type treatment, Mark’s therapy veered into the territory of the 1999 movie But I’m A Cheerleader, where ‘reparative therapy’ is used, with the idea being that same-sex attraction is a symptom of a psychological problem that can be fixed by talking through childhood issues.

The damage has been done

But both of these types of conversion therapy still go on throughout the world, and both have the end result of making people believe they are inherently wrong.

Stonewall’s Josh Bradlow said: ‘A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is a natural, normal part of their identity and not something that can or should be changed.

‘By trying to shame a person into denying a core part of who they are, these ‘therapies’ can have a seriously damaging impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Major UK health organisations like the NHS, and the leading psychotherapy and counselling bodies have publicly condemned these practices.’

The ‘happy ending’ here is the fact that Carolyn transitioned and is a grandparent with a loving wife and children, and that Mark has found his calling and started a beautiful family.

But healing scars that run so deep are much harder than ensuring we don’t inflict them in the first place.

Carolyn likens the experience to stretching an elastic band to the point where it no longer has any give left.

‘I don’t feel positive emotions,’ she said.

‘And that’s what has been driven out of me by an understanding that I was wrong. I was evil.

‘[Without aversion therapy] I would have been freed from that. I would have been able to enjoy things more. It’s better now than it was, but the damage is done.’

As the stats above show, although these decades have passed in Carolyn and Mark’s stories, these therapies are still happening, and the damage is still being done to others.

Both the survivors of conversion therapy that Metro.co.uk spoke to say that the solution is more understanding and empathy alongside a ban on these practices.

It’s all very well to ban conversion therapy, but without the proper understanding about the shame and hiding that comes with gender dysphoria or questions about our sexuality, we’re no closer to equality.

Mr Bradlow said: ‘Banning sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy would send a powerful message to young LGBT people to let them know that they are not ill.

‘But we also need to work on raising awareness of these dangerous practices, and ensure practitioners are trained to recognise it too.

‘And fundamentally, we need to tackle messages young LGBT people may get from other places, whether that be school, the media or at home, that there’s something wrong with who they are.

‘Until that happens, our work continues to ensure every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person can grow up happy, healthy and supported to be themselves.’

Complete Article HERE!

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision 2020

Paintings by Douglas Blanchard

A contemporary Jesus arrives as a young gay man in a modern city with “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. The 24 paintings present a liberating new vision of Jesus’ final days, including Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.

“Christ is one of us in my pictures,” says Blanchard. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.” Blanchard, an art professor and self-proclaimed “very agnostic believer,” used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.












High-quality reproductions of Doug Blanchard’s 24 gay Passion paintings are available at: http://douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com/ Giclee prints come in many sizes and formats. Greeting cards can be purchased too. Some originals are also available.

Visit Douglas Blanchard’s site HERE!

Why Bernard Preynat and sex abuse in the Church is a feminist issue

Former French priest Bernard Preynat at his trial on charges of sex abuse of minors in Lyon, France, 13 January, 2020.

by Sarah Elzas

Bernard Preynat, a former Catholic Priest accused of sexually abusing dozens of boy scouts in the 1970s and 80s is on trial. In court he claimed that he himself was a victim. For Catholic activist and journalist Christine Pedotti, this trial, and that of the Bishop who covered up the abuse, reveals a systemic problem in the French Catholic Church, which has its roots in the masculine domination of the clergy.

The trial of Preynat and that of Bishop Barbarin are part of the biggest crisis in the French Church in decades.

Christine Pedotti, the editor of the weekly Catholic newspaper Témoignage Chrétien, was part of a group calling for a commission to look into the wider problem of sex abuse in the Church. The Catholic Church set up an independent commission in February 2019, and has so far collected over 2000 stories.

Q: You are active as a feminist, and have questionned how the Church approaches the issue of women, and sexuality and homosexuality. How is this current crisis of sex abuse a feminist issue?

Christine Pedotti: I see the issue of paedophilia as a symptom of an inward-focused, masculine clerical culture, in which sexuality is always seen as a sin.

What’s terrible is that deep down, some clergy consider that sexual acts with children are less serious than sexual acts with women. This shows there is a very negative view of women.

The Catholic Church doesn’t know how to talk about sexuality, because it’s incapable of seeing women as desirable. That’s where this meets feminism.

Q: How has France approached the issue of sex abuse by priests differently from elsewhere?

CP: France is France, so we think we’re exceptional. This was happening everywhere else: in Canada, in the US, in Australia, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Poland, Chile. France thought the problem would stop at our borders.

The French church had to realize it had a problem, and it wasn’t an exception. That’s a difficult realization. It’s difficult to come to terms that this happened in France just like everywhere else. That four Bishops of Lyon, one after the other, closed their eyes on this priest [Preynat], who everyone knew was a criminal.

Q: Some people have turned away from the Church because of these paedophilia scandals. Have you ever been tempted to give it up?

CP: Many people ask why not become Protestant? First, I don’t think things are any better in that Church. And second, it would be like changing countries or nationalities. That’s not easy to do.

I grew up Catholic, and am imbibed by Catholic history and culture. It interests me a lot. So I stay with it, and try to change it. I created an association whose mission is: “neither leave, nor stay quiet”. And I talk, and I bother the Bishops.

A French newspaper called me a “pain in the ass for church people”. I think it’s rather a compliment!

Christine Pedotti

Q: Preynat is on trial, Barbarin was convicted last year. There is a growing awareness of this problem in the French Catholic Church. Are things changing as a result?

CP: I am hopeful, but Pope Francis has pointed out the main issue, which I agree with (I love saying that the Pope and I agree!). The issue is clericalism and the isolation of the priest, as sacred, and separate. How do we fight against this feeling of exceptionalism that priests have?

This is not just a French issue, it’s an issue for the Catholic Church as a whole. Who are these men – because they are exclusively men, and celibate – who have a special rapport with the divine? It’s very strange, and rather archaic. It puts the Catholic Church in a rather uncomfortable position.

Q: Your work has often been on the margins of the mainstream approach to Catholicism. You have focused on taboos subjects. How have these sex scandals, and the reactions to them, changed the way people see your work?

CP: Today I’m invited to conferences more than before. People are starting to see that that what I’ve been saying for a long time is true. It’s almost an oxymoron to say you’re Catholic and feminist. It seems impossible. Today, some people are saying: Maybe she’s right – not just me, but a certain number of Catholics who take very disruptive positions.

Today I can say that there are points on which I agree with the Pope! Not on the issue of women, but on some issues we have a common analysis – so I’m less marginalised.

I think many people agree with me that there was a real error in what Pope John-Paul II did, to focus the church on the Priest, male, celibate, as sacred. And placing women as mothers, wives, reserved and quiet like the Virgin Mary.

Q: You speak about the lack of credibility in the French church. Will these alternative ways of thinking attract people back to Catholicism in France?

CP: That’s complicated to say. Today the French Catholic Church is fragile. It receives no public funds, and donations have gone down. It’s a complicated crisis, because it comes from inside.

So to know what will happen, is a real question. I still believe in the religion, and there are resources in faith. But we are moving towards a smaller Church. The Church and power went hand-in-hand over the centuries. This was probably an error. Now we have to unlearn what we’ve done since Constantine, which was 16 centuries ago. So there’s a ways to go.

Catholicism counts a lot on its pope. Pope Francis is not young. It will be interesting to see how those in power, across the world, will choose who will replace him. Will they decide on conservatism, to avoid change? Or will they say that in order to announce the gospel in the 21st, we need to change something?

Complete Article HERE!

How the cult of Virgin Mary turned a symbol of female authority into a tool of patriarchy


Madonna with child and angels by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, 1674. The cult of the Virgin is emblematic of the way the church silences women and marginalises their experience.

By

Belief in the virgin birth comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Their birth stories are different, but both present Mary as a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Mary and Joseph begin their sexual relationship following Jesus’ birth, and so Jesus has brothers and sisters.

Catholic piety goes beyond this, with Mary depicted as a virgin not only before but also during and after Jesus’ birth, her hymen miraculously restored. The brothers and sisters of Jesus are seen as either cousins or children of Joseph by an earlier marriage.

In Catholicism, Mary remains a virgin throughout her married life. This view arises not from the New Testament but from an apocryphal Gospel in the second century, the “Protoevangelium of James”, which affirms Mary’s perpetual virginity.

From the second century onwards, Christians saw virginity as an ideal, an alternative to marriage and children. Mary was seen to exemplify this choice, along with Jesus and the apostle Paul. It accorded with the surrounding culture where Greek philosophers, male and female, tried to live a simple life without attachment to family or possessions.

This extolling of virginity, however unlikely when applied to Mary, did have some advantages. The option of becoming a celibate nun in community with other women gave young women in the early church an attractive alternative to marriage, in a culture where marriages were generally arranged and death in childbirth was common.

Yet belief in the eternal virginity of Mary has also inflicted damage over the centuries, particularly on women. It has distorted the character of Mary, turning her into a submissive, dependent creature, without threat to patriarchal structures.

She is divorced from the lives of real women who can never attain her sexless motherhood or her unsullied “purity”.

A strong minded leader

Yet in the Gospels, Mary is a vibrant figure: strong-minded and courageous, a leader in the community of faith.

Simone de Beauvoir, the influential, early French feminist, observed that the cult of the Virgin Mary represented the “supreme victory of masculinity”, implying that it served the interests of men rather than women.

The ever-Virgin diminishes women’s sexuality and makes the female body and female sexuality seem unwholesome, impure. She is a safe and nonthreatening figure for celibate men who place her on a pedestal, both literally and metaphorically.

The contradiction

It is true that Catholic women across the world have found great solace in the compassionate figure of Mary, especially against images of a very masculine, judgmental God, and the brutality of political and religious hierarchy.

But for this women have paid a price, in their exclusion from leadership. Mary’s voice has been permitted, in filtered tones, to ring out across the church, but real women’s voices are silent.

In today’s context, the cult of the Virgin becomes emblematic of the way the church silences women and marginalises their experience.

Marian piety in its traditional form has a deep contradiction at its heart. In a speech in 2014, Pope Francis said, “The model of maternity for the Church is the Virgin Mary” who “in the fullness of time conceived through the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Son of God.”

If that were true, women could be ordained, since their connection to Mary would allow them, like her, to represent the church. If the world received the body of Christ from this woman, Mary, then women today should not be excluded from giving the body of Christ, as priests, to the faithful at Mass.

The Virgin cult cuts women off from the full, human reality of Mary, and so from full participation in the life of the church.

It is no coincidence that in the early 20th century, the Vatican forbade Mary to be depicted in priestly vestments. She could only ever be presented as the unattainable virgin-mother: never as leader, and never as a fully embodied woman in her own right.

The irony of this should not be lost. A fully human Gospel symbol of female authority, autonomy, and the capacity to envision a transformed world becomes a tool of patriarchy.

By contrast, the Mary of the Gospels, the God-bearer and priestly figure – a normal wife and mother of children – confirms women in their embodied humanity and supports their efforts to challenge unjust structures, both within and outside the church.

Complete Article HERE!

German bishops declare that homosexuality is completely and utterly ‘normal’

In a groundbreaking move, German bishops have revised teachings on sexual morality and said homosexuality is “normal”.

Pope Francis meets with German bishops during their ad limina visit Nov. 20, 2015.

By Josh Milton

As the Catholic Church prepares for its contended review, the Commission for Marriage and Family of the German Bishops’ Conference came to the consensus that being gay is a “normal form of sexual predisposition.”

Moreover, church organisers committed to “newly assessing” topics such as sacraments of ordination and marriage, with another revision being that adultery will not longer “always be qualified as grave sin”, the Catholic News Agency reported.

For centuries, Church leaders have been rattled by the thought of people being sexualities other than heterosexual. But as public attitudes and governments overwhelmingly sway in favour of letting the LGBT+ community exist, the church has steadily caught up to speed.

German bishops call for homophobia to be ‘rejected’ in the church.

The German Catholic Church’s statement comes ahead of a two-year ‘Synodal Process’ by the Germans which will see a national reform consultation. Although, Vatican leaders have warned against this.

In a press release detailing the conclusions of the conference, it detailed how a panel of bishops, sexologists, moral theologians and canon lawyers deliberated how to discuss “the sexuality of man […] scientifically-theologically, and how to assess it ecclesiastically.”

The experts, consisting of bishops from four diocese, agreed in the Berlin conference that “human sexuality encompasses a dimension of lust, of procreation, and of relationships”, the release stated.

“There was also agreement that the sexual preference of man expresses itself in puberty and assumes a hetero- or homosexual orientation. Both belong to the normal forms of sexual predisposition, which cannot or should be be changed with the help of a specific socialisation.”

The panel also said that “any form of discrimination of those persons with a homosexual orientation has to be rejected.”

However, the panel did not reach a consensus across all battle lines. There was no consensus on “whether the magisterial ban on practiced homosexuality is still up to date.”

Furthermore, the experts also disagreed on whether or not both married and unmarried people should be allowed to use artificial contraceptives.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis Is Fearless

His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.

“It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” Pope Francis said in September.

By John Gehring

The Rev. James Martin, one of America’s most prominent Catholic priests, is a best-selling author, film consultant to Hollywood producers and a prolific tweeter with a digital pulpit that reaches more than 250,000 followers. Father Martin is also a hero to many L.G.B.T. Catholics for challenging church leaders to recognize the full humanity of gay people. His advocacy has made him a target of vicious online campaigns from far-right Catholic groups. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia last month warned that Father Martin “does not speak with authority on behalf of the church.”

But this week, Father Martin’s ministry received an endorsement from the most authoritative of church offices. Pope Francis met with the priest, a Jesuit like the pope, during a private, half-hour conversation in the pope’s library, a place often reserved for discussions with heads of state and diplomats. In a tweet, Father Martin said he shared with Francis “the joys and hopes, and the griefs and anxieties, of L.G.B.T. Catholics and L.G.B.T. people worldwide.”

There is little doubt Pope Francis wanted the meeting advertised. Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator, a London-based conservative magazine, tweeted that the pope’s meeting was “intended to taunt the U.S. conservatives that he demonizes.”

Despite that hyperventilating, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is not afraid of the small but increasingly vocal chorus of American critics who consider his pastoral efforts to reach out to L.G.B.T. people and divorced Catholics as near heretical breaks from church tradition. In September, a reporter asked Pope Francis about his right-wing critics in the United States. “It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” the pope told Nicholas Senèze, a French journalist who presented the pope with his new book, “How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” which chronicles efforts by conservatives in the United States to undermine the pope.

The pope’s meeting with Father Martin did more than serve as a signal of support for the priest’s advocacy on behalf of L.G.B.T. people. It was also emblematic of the Francis papacy, which has been a consistent rebuke to a style of culture-war Christianity that since the ascendance of the religious right in the United States during the 1980s has often been the default setting for American Christianity in politics.

Father Martin told a conference on families that gay Catholics are sometimes “treated like dirt.”

Since his election six years ago, Pope Francis has modeled a different brand of moral leadership: engaging and persuading, reframing contentious issues away from narrow ideologies and expanding moral imaginations. Last week, a gay theologian and priest who was dismissed from his religious order for expressing disagreement with the church’s teachings on same-sex relationships wrote that Pope Francis called him two years ago, gave him “the power of the keys,” a reference to being restored to ministry, and encouraged him to “walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus.”

The pope’s interior freedom and humility stand in stark contrast to other religious and political leaders on the world stage. When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, he declared: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” In keeping with that megalomania, Mr. Trump surrounds himself with compliant evangelical courtiers like Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor, who view the president in messianic terms, a political savior. Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Jeffress this week, citing the pastor’s claim on Fox News that if the president is impeached, it will cause a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”

Pope Francis rejects this resurgence of Christian nationalism and warns against idolizing politicians.

As right-wing populists from the United States to Europe depict migrants as menacing threats and build walls, the pope continues to challenge what he calls a “globalization of indifference.” On Sunday, during a special Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis unveiled an artistic monument to migration in St. Peter’s Square. The work depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling by boat, a powerful visual counterpoint to the nativist winds blowing across both sides of the Atlantic.

And unlike the loudest anti-abortion voices on the Christian right who are so wed to the Republican Party that they ignore assaults on life inflicted by policies that exacerbate economic inequality, poverty and climate change, the pope insists that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred” as the unborn in the womb.

Culture warriors in the United States have done enough damage to our collective political and moral imagination. More intoxicated with power than faithful to the gospel, these religious leaders demonize L.G.B.T. people, turn their back on migrants fleeing danger and ignore the cries of the poor while claiming to defend Christian values. A humble but persistent pastor in Rome reminds us there is a different path for those of us who still believe in a faith that seeks justice.

Complete Article HERE!

Reflecting and recalling our history:

LGBT Catholics from Oscar Wilde to Farm Street Jesuit Church

On 18 May 1897, Wilde was released from prison after serving two years for ‘gross indecency’ for being in a same sex relationship

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster community at the Oscar Wilde memorial, as part of their walk commemorating 20th anniversaries of the Admiral Duncan bombing and the first Mass welcoming LGBT Catholics, their families and friends

by Benjamin Smith

On 18 May 1897, the writer Oscar Wilde was released from prison after serving two years for ‘gross indecency’; imprisoned for being in a same sex relationship. One of his first acts upon gaining his freedom was to write to the Jesuits at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, London, asking for a six month retreat. Perhaps because they feared scandal, or because they were sceptical of his commitment, the Jesuits refused his request, instead telling him to ask again after a period of discernment. Wilde left for France shortly afterwards, and never returned to London. The story of LGBT Catholics doesn’t end there, however; London has been the scene of many more encounters between the Church and LGBT people; notably in recent times the journey of the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster (formerly Soho Masses) community.

The spring of 1999 was a time of mourning for the LGBT community; on the evening of Friday April 30th 1999, a neo-nazi had detonated a bomb in the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, killing three people, including a pregnant woman, and injuring 79. The law which had been used to convict Oscar Wilde had been repealed in 1967, but homophobia was still common throughout society, and although the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had condemned violence against “homosexual persons’ in their 1986 document “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, many LGBT people did not feel welcome in Catholic churches. In this atmosphere of fear and distrust, the Helpers of the Holy Souls opened the doors of their convent in Camden Town to the LGBT Catholic community, and the first Mass welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends, was held there on Sunday 2nd May 1999.

Last Saturday (27th April 2019), the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster commemorated both of these anniversaries with a prayerful walk, beginning at the Oscar Wilde memorial and finishing at Farm Street church, which is now our home parish. Along the way we heard readings from scripture and from Catholic authors who had struggled with their sexuality, such as the priest Henri Nouwen and the poet Dunstan Thomas. We prayed for the victims of hate crime, the activists who have worked tirelessly for LGBT inclusion in the Church, and for the Pope and the Church as a whole. The stops on the route included the Admiral Duncan pub, the church of Notre Dame de France, where the first public conference on Catholics and Homosexuality was held in 1976, and two churches which have hosted our community over the years: St Anne’s Anglican Church, on Dean Street, and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street.

The Convent of the Helpers of the Holy Souls was sold in 2001, and the LGBT Catholic community moved to St Anne’s in the heart of Soho. Over time, the size of the community began to outgrow the space available, while at the same time the diocese of Westminster was looking for a way to offer outreach and support to LGBT Catholics, and in 2007 the community was invited by the diocese to attend Mass at Warwick Street twice a month. The community flourished, many members travelling long distances to attend the Masses. For many people, including myself, this was the first time we were able to openly identify ourselves as Catholic in an LGBT community that often seemed to view Catholics with suspicion, and openly identify ourselves as LGBT in a Church that often seemed to view LGBT people as a problem that needed to be solved, rather than embraced as part of God’s creation.

The news of the move to Farm Street in 2013 was met with some trepidation by the Soho Masses community: would we be accepted or shunned? Would we be swallowed up by a larger parish and lose the sense of identity and community we had worked so hard to build? However, as we discovered, both the clergy and parishioners at Farm Street take pride in the welcome they extend to all, and their response to the LGBT Catholic community was no exception. As well as worshipping together regularly as a community, LGBT+ Catholics Westminster are integrated into the life of the wider parish; serving at the Masses with music, reading and ministering, and contributing to the parish’s social and charitable activities. Our inclusion as part of the Westminster Diocese chaplaincy to LGBT people has also allowed us to start reaching out to others who may need support, with events for young people still struggling to reconcile their faith and sexual or gender identity, or for Catholic parents of LGBT people. Coming out is always challenging, and the journey of LGBT+ Catholics Westminster has been no exception, but each step we have taken has give us new opportunities to witness that LGBT people have a home in the Catholic church.

Complete Article HERE!

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision 2019

Paintings by Douglas Blanchard

A contemporary Jesus arrives as a young gay man in a modern city with “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. The 24 paintings present a liberating new vision of Jesus’ final days, including Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.

“Christ is one of us in my pictures,” says Blanchard. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.” Blanchard, an art professor and self-proclaimed “very agnostic believer,” used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.












High-quality reproductions of Doug Blanchard’s 24 gay Passion paintings are available at: http://douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com/ Giclee prints come in many sizes and formats. Greeting cards can be purchased too. Some originals are also available.

Visit Douglas Blanchard’s site HERE!

A thousand years ago, the Catholic Church paid little attention to homosexuality

Activists hold demonstrating against the church’s sacking of priests over alleged homosexuality.

By

Pope Francis has spoken openly about homosexuality. In a recent interview, the pope said that homosexual tendencies “are not a sin.” And a few years ago, in comments made during an in-flight interview, he said,

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

However, the pope has also discouraged homosexual men from entering the priesthood. He categorically stated in another interview that for one with homosexual tendencies, the “ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.”

Many gay priests, when interviewed by The New York Times, characterized themselves as being in a “cage” as a result of the church’s policies on homosexuality.

As a scholar specializing in the history of the Catholic Church and gender studies, I can attest that 1,000 years ago, gay priests were not so restricted. In earlier centuries, the Catholic Church paid little attention to homosexual activity among priests or laypeople.

Open admission of same-sex desires

While the church’s official stance prohibiting sexual relations between people of the same sex has remained constant, the importance the church ascribes to the “sin” has varied. Additionally, over centuries, the church only sporadically chose to investigate or enforce its prohibitions.

Prior to the 12th century, it was possible for priests – even celebrated ones like the 12th-century abbot and spiritual writer St. Aelred of Riveaulx – to write openly about same-sex desire, and ongoing emotional and physical relationships with other men.

Biblical misunderstandings

The Bible places as little emphasis on same-sex acts as the early church did, even though many Christians may have been taught that the Bible clearly prohibits homosexuality.

Judeo-Christian scriptures rarely mention same-sex sexuality. Of the 35,527 verses in the Catholic Bible, only seven – 0.02% – are sometimes interpreted as prohibiting homosexual acts.

Even within those, apparent references to same-sex relations were not originally written or understood as categorically indicting homosexual acts, as in modern times. Christians before the late 19th century had no concept of gay or straight identity.

For example, Genesis 19 records God’s destruction of two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, by “sulphur and fire” for their wickedness. For 1,500 years after the writing of Genesis, no biblical writers equated this wickedness with same-sex acts. Only in the first century A.D. did a Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, first mistakenly equate Sodom’s sin with same-sex sexuality.

Depiction of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

It took centuries for a Christian consensus to agree with Philo’s misinterpretation, and it eventually became the accepted understanding of this scripture, from which the derogatory term “sodomite” emerged.

Today, however, theologians generally affirm that the wickedness God punished was the inhabitants’ arrogance and lack of charity and hospitality, not any sex act.

Religious scholars have similarly researched the other six scriptures that Christians in modern times claim justify God’s categorical condemnation of all same-sex acts. They have uncovered how similar mistranslations, miscontextualizations, and misinterpretations have altered the meanings of these ancient scriptures to legitimate modern social prejudices against homosexuality.

For example, instead of labeling all homosexual acts as sinful in the eyes of God, ancient Christians were concerned about excesses of behavior that might separate believers from God. The apostle Paul criticized same-sex acts along with a list of immoderate behaviors, such as gossip and boastfulness, that any believer could overindulge in.

He could not have been delivering a blanket condemnation of homosexuality or homosexuals because these concepts would not exist for 1,800 more years.

Gay sex, as such, usually went unpunished

Early church leaders didn’t seem overly concerned about punishing those who engaged in homosexual practice. I have found that there is a remarkable silence about homosexual acts, both in theologies and in church laws for over 1,000 years, before the late 12th century.

When early Christian commentators such as John Chrysostom, one of the most prolific biblical writers of the fourth century, criticized homosexual acts, it was typically part of an ascetic condemnation of all sexual experiences.

Moreover, it was generally not the sex act itself that was sinful but some consequence, such as how participating in an act might violate social norms like gender hierarchies. Social norms dictated that men be dominant and women passive in most circumstances.

If a man took on the passive role in a same-sex act, he took on the woman’s role. He was “unmasculine and effeminate,” a transgression of the gender hierarchy that Philo of Alexandria called the “greatest of all evils.” The concern was to police gender roles rather than sex acts, in and of themselves.

Before the mid-12th century, the church grouped sodomy among many sins involving lust, but their penalties for same sex-relations were very lenient if they existed or were enforced at all.

Church councils and penance manuals show little concern over the issue. In the early 12th century, a time of church revival, reform and expansion, prominent priests and monks could write poetry and letters glorifying love and passion – even physical passion – toward those of the same sex and not be censured.

Instead, it was civil authorities that eventually took serious interest in prosecuting the offenders.

The years of hostility

By the end of the 12th century, the earlier atmosphere of relative tolerance began to change. Governments and the Catholic Church were growing and consolidating greater authority. They increasingly sought to regulate the lives – even private lives – of their subjects.

The Third Lateran Council of 1179, a church council held at the Lateran palace in Rome, for example, outlawed sodomy. Clerics who practiced it were either to be defrocked or enter a monastery to perform penance. Laypeople were more harshly punished with excommunication.

It might be mentioned that such hostility grew, not only toward people engaging in same-sex relations but toward other minority groups as well. Jews, Muslims and lepers also faced rising levels of persecution.

While church laws and punishments against same-sex acts grew increasingly harsh, they were, at first, only sporadically enforced. Influential churchmen, such as 13th-century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas and popular preacher Bernardino of Siena, known as the “Apostle of Italy,” disagreed about the severity of sin involved.

By the 15th century, however, the church conformed to social opinions and became more vocal in condemning and prosecuting homosexual acts, a practice that continues to today.

Priests fear retribution today

Today, the Catholic Catechism teaches that desiring others of the same sex is not sinful but acting on those desires is.

As the Catechism says, persons with such desires should remain chaste and “must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Indeed, Catholic ministries such as DignityUSA and New Ways Ministries seek to serve and advocate for this population.

Yet gay priests are in a different category. They live and work under mandatory celibacy, often in same-sex religious orders. Pope Francis I has encouraged them to be “perfectly responsible” to avoid scandal, while discouraging other gay men from entering the priesthood.

Many fear retribution if they cannot live up to this ideal. For the estimated 30-40% of U.S priests who are gay, the openness of same-sex desire among clerics of the past is but a memory.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Breaking People’s Hearts

It fires gay workers, vilifies gay priests and alienates parishioners who can’t make any sense of this.

Shelly Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave by the Catholic school where she worked because she is married to a woman.

By Frank Bruni

Pat Fitzgerald, 67, has long loved being a Catholic, and the part he loved maybe most of all, for the past quarter-century, was his role as a spiritual mentor at retreats for students at a church-affiliated high school in Indianapolis, where he lives.

But he has been told that he’s not wanted anymore. His crime? He publicly supported his daughter, a guidance counselor at the school, after its administrators moved to get rid of her because she’s married to a woman.

The school’s treatment of Shelly Fitzgerald, 45, was a big local story last summer that went national; she ended up on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September. It was one of many examples of Catholic institutions deciding almost whimsically to exile longtime employees — not priests or nuns but coaches, teachers, counselors — who had long been known to be gay but were suddenly regarded as liabilities.

Maybe they had quietly married their partners, formalizing those relationships and inadvertently drawing attention to themselves. Maybe some homophobic parent or congregant had belatedly learned about them and lodged a complaint. That’s what happened to Shelly Fitzgerald, and her 14 years of fine work at Roncalli High School no longer mattered. Only her 2015 marriage to her longtime partner did. She was told that she could stay on if she dissolved the union. She said no thanks and was kicked off school grounds in August.

The aftershocks still complicate the lives — and faith — of people around her: her students, their parents, her dad. On Facebook last month she posted a letter from him to the Roncalli community in which he explained that he’d just been disinvited from future retreats but thanked everyone for being such supportive friends over the years.

“Today my heart is broken,” he wrote, adding that the retreats he’d participated in — more than 40 in all — were “the most beautiful and holy settings I have ever witnessed.” He alluded only vaguely to his daughter’s case. “To people on both sides of this ongoing issue,” he wrote, “I hope you can find peace.”

But there’s no peace for the Catholic Church here. It’s too mired in its own hypocrisy. The tension between its official teaching and unofficial practice — between the ignorance of the past and the illumination of the present — grows tauter all the time.

Most Catholics support same-sex marriage, in defiance of the church’s formal position, and many parishes fully welcome L.G.B.T. people. Yet there are places, and times, when the hammer comes down.

Church leaders know full well that the priesthood would be decimated if closeted gay men were exposed and expelled. Yet the church as a matter of policy bars men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and considers gay people “objectively disordered.”

Catholics are supposed to show compassion. Yet Shelly and her dad were shown anything but.

She has been on administrative leave since August, and last month her lawyer, David Page, filed a charge of discrimination against the school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It has up to 180 days to respond.

On Tuesday morning he showed me paperwork for a second charge of discrimination that he said he would be filing imminently; it cites what happened to her father as an unlawful act of retaliation meant to dissuade Shelly from pressing her case.

Pat Fitzgerald, uncomfortable with media attention, declined to speak with me, preferring to let his daughter do the talking. “His struggle comes from caring about Roncalli and being in conflict with what they’ve done to me,” Shelly told me. In October he attended a protest against the church’s treatment of L.G.B.T. people. His sign said, “Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.”

There is, by many accounts, profound anger and hurt at Roncalli. As it happens, Shelly was one of two directors of counseling there; the other, Lynn Starkey, 62, is in a same-sex civil union and in November filed her own charge of discrimination with the E.E.O.C., claiming a “hostile work environment” in the aftermath of Shelly’s departure. For now she remains on the job.

Many students started an L.G.B.T. advocacy group, Shelly’s Voice, that also attracted parents and other adults in the community. A related Facebook page, Time to Be a Rebel, has more than 4,500 members.

But one parent told me that students who question Shelly’s dismissal fear repercussions. “Seniors are being told that if they speak out, they take the chance of not being able to graduate,” the parent, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said.
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According to posts on the Facebook page, a small cluster of Roncalli students were invited last month to a lunch with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis, only to have him stress that homosexuality is a disorder and its expression sinful. One student called it an ambush.

For comment on all of this, I contacted the Roncalli principal, who referred me to a spokesman for the archdiocese. The spokesman sent me a statement that said that Pat Fitzgerald’s exclusion from student retreats reflected the “continuing attention surrounding his daughter’s suspension” and “his own participation in public protests over Catholic Church teaching.” He was still welcome at Masses, the statement said.

In regard to Shelly’s suspension, a past statement from the archdiocese reiterated what the Catholic Church has said in similar cases: Employees of Catholic schools are expected to live in compliance with church teaching. But is that legally enforceable?

Shelly’s E.E.O.C. complaint tests where federal civil rights law covers sexual orientation, a matter on which courts in different areas of the country have disagreed. Also, the Catholic Church has attempted to claim a “ministerial exception” from nondiscrimination laws that conflict with religious tenets, but there’s continued dispute about whether this applies to workers, like Shelly, who aren’t in the clergy.

Shelly pointed out that the Catholic Church isn’t generally going after teachers who flout its rules by using birth control or divorcing or having sexual relations outside marriage. “They’re going after L.G.B.T. people,” she said. “They’re going to die on this hill.”

And they’re going to hurt people — like Shawn Aldrich, who attended Roncalli, just as his parents and his wife and her parents did. He has two children there now. What has happened to Shelly astounds him.

“She was phenomenal at her job,” Aldrich told me. “So why are we dismissing her?” He knows what church leaders say about homosexuality but noted, “It’s our church, too.” Besides, he said, “All of us are made in God’s image.”

He and his wife plan to end their family tradition. They won’t send their third child, now in seventh grade, to Roncalli. “And that breaks our hearts,” he said. “That absolutely breaks our hearts.”

Complete Article HERE!